Portal:Gilbert and Sullivan

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The Gilbert and Sullivan Portal

Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old

Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old

Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian era partnership of librettist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900). Together, they wrote fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado are among the best known. Gilbert, who wrote the words, created fanciful "topsy-turvy" worlds for these operas, where each absurdity is taken to its logical conclusion—fairies rub elbows with British lords, flirting is a capital offence, gondoliers ascend to the monarchy, and pirates turn out to be noblemen who have gone wrong. Sullivan, six years Gilbert's junior, composed the music, contributing memorable melodies that could convey both humour and pathos. Producer Richard D'Oyly Carte brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and nurtured their collaboration. He built the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their joint works—which came to be known as the Savoy Operas—and he founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed and promoted their works for over a century. The Gilbert and Sullivan operas have enjoyed broad and enduring international success and are still performed frequently throughout the English-speaking world. The collaboration introduced innovations in content and form that directly influenced the development of musical theatre through the 20th century. The operas have also influenced political discourse, literature, film and television and have been widely parodied and pastiched by humorists.

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Topsyturveydom (sometimes spelled Topsyturvydom or Topseyturveydom) is a one-act operetta, styled "an entirely original musical extravaganza", by W. S. Gilbert with music by Alfred Cellier. It opened on March 21, 1874 at the Criterion Theatre in London. This was the first work shown at the newly-built Criterion, and it was played together with An American Lady, written and performed by Gilbert's friend, the dramatist and Fun magazine founder, Henry J. Byron. The musical score to Topsyturveydom does not survive, but amateur productions in recent decades have used newly-composed scores or performed the work as a non-musical play. Advertisements for the work spelled the title "Topsy­turveydom", whereas the license copy of the libretto, filed with the Lord Chamberlain's office, and now held in the British Library, spells it "Topsy­turvydom". Topsy­turveydom is set in a quasi-utopia (reminiscent of Gilbert's earlier Happy Arcadia (1872), or even Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels), where things are the opposite of the norm. Party politics is lampooned, much as it would be two decades later in Gilbert and Sullivan's Utopia, Limited. As in that work, the king is a "detested" monarch. Gilbert also renews the idea of party politics working in a backwards way in Iolanthe, where the House of Lords is threatened with obsolescence by having its members selected by competitive examination.

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Richard D'Oyly Carte, W. S. Gibert, and Arthur Sullivan
Credit: Alfred Bryan

Gilbert and Sullivan created fourteen comic operas, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado, many of which are still frequently performed today. However, events around their 1889 collaboration, The Gondoliers, led to an argument and a lawsuit dividing the two. In 1891, after many failed attempts at reconciliation by the pair and their producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, Gilbert and Sullivan's music publisher, Tom Chappell, stepped in to mediate between two of his most profitable artists, and within two weeks he had succeeded. This cartoon in The Entr'acte expresses the magazine's pleasure at the reuniting of D'Oyly Carte (left), Gilbert (centre), and Sullivan (right).

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Louie Henri (April 12, 1864 – May 2, 1947) was an English singer and actress, best known for her many roles in the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. She married Henry Lytton, who eventually became the company's longstanding principal comedian. Henri's career got off to an early start when she joined Florence St. John's Opera Company at the age of 15, but she left that troupe to help start her husband's acting career. Together, they struggled to establish more secure careers in the theatre and eventually obtained steady employment in D'Oyly Carte touring companies. Henri was promoted to play the leading mezzo soprano roles in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas and the other productions of the company for about a decade. However, in 1898, after her husband became a principal player in the main company at the Savoy Theatre, Henri retired from the stage at the age of 34.

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A very early wax cylinder recording (October 5, 1888) of Arthur Sullivan recording an audio letter to be sent back to Thomas Alva Edison at a phonograph party hosted by Edison's London representative, George Gouraud.

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George Grossmith
Of course, I haven’t any voice to speak of, but I have a great register, and Sullivan used to amuse himself by making me sing bass in one number of an opera and tenor in another. In 'Ruddygore', Sir Arthur had engaged a man to play the servant, my menial, so to speak, who had an enormous bass voice, and who had to go down to the lower E flat. Singularly enough, he could go down to G, and then he dropped out entirely, and I did the [low E-flat] below. Generally the audience roared with laughter, and it absolutely brought down the house.


Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan topics

The Triumvirate: W. S. GilbertArthur SullivanRichard D'Oyly Carte

The Gilbert and Sullivan Operas: ThespisTrial by JuryThe SorcererH.M.S. PinaforeThe Pirates of PenzancePatienceIolanthePrincess IdaThe MikadoRuddigoreThe Yeomen of the GuardThe GondoliersUtopia, LimitedThe Grand Duke

Other Works, People and Related Matters: Other Works by W. S. GilbertOther Operas by Arthur SullivanOther Music by Arthur SullivanSavoy operaPeople associated with Gilbert and SullivanGilbert and Sullivan performersD'Oyly Carte Opera CompanyHelen CarteRupert D'Oyly CarteBridget D'Oyly CarteCultural influence of Gilbert and SullivanInternational Gilbert and Sullivan Festival

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